Nearly six years ago, residents Marian Kessler and BJ Peters began working with a program called “SnackPack.” This program helps deliver snack time meals to underprivileged children at the Bay Haven School in Sarasota. “Snack time” is a mandatory component of K-5 schools today, and without the SnackPack program, some children would show up with no snack at all. Can you imagine what it must be like for a child to sit empty-handed and hungry in school while classmates all around are having a snack? Teachers were left to fill the gap.
Marian and BJ have seen the SnackPack program evolve over the years. In fact, at one time, these snacks were packed on our very own campus. Today, however, Marian and BJ collect tax-deductible monetary donations from neighbors, friends, and family in order to purchase the food. Typically, the snack bags contain items such as granola bars, pudding cups, and the like, five items per bag to cover a week. They work with the guidance counselor at Bay Haven School to determine quantities and the right foods to buy. The school provides a designated space for Plymouth Harbor volunteers to come to sort and pack. While Marian and BJ only need six volunteers at a time to help pack the bags, it takes numerous contributors to ensure that they can purchase enough food to fill the need. The process of purchasing food, bag labeling, and packing is done once a month.
The most crucial element of the SnackPack program is that students who receive this aid remain anonymous. How is this accomplished? SnackPacks arrive in labeled plastic bags similar to other children’s snack bags at school. The bags are then placed in the same bin as all other classroom snacks, and when the time come for kids to take their snack, it is virtually impossible to tell where each one originated. Since they began working with the program, Marian and BJ have had support from more than 40 volunteers and contributors within Plymouth Harbor. The original 40 SnackPack recipients from Bay Haven School have increased to 63 children who qualify for food assistance.
“The need is real and growing,” says Marian. “It’s a very small amount of time that volunteers give, but the impact is huge.”
BJ, a school teacher herself for 25 years, adds, “It’s certainly a wonderful relationship between the staff and students at Bay Haven. It’s a comfortable place and you can sense the rapport right away. The SnackPack program fits right into that spirit.”